Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other'
doesn't make any sense.
Do you wake up as I do, having forgotten what it is that hurts or where, until you move? There is a second of consciousness that is clean again. A second that is you, without memory or experience, the animal warm and waking into a brand new world. There is the sun dissolving the dark, and light as clear as music, filling the room where you sleep and the other rooms behind your eyes.
Of course, even when you see the world as a trap and posit a fundamental separation between liberation of self and transformation of society, you can still feel a compassionate impulse to help its suffering beings. In that case you tend to view the personal and the political in a sequential fashion. "I'll get enlightened first, and then I'll engage in social action." Those who are not engaged in spiritual pursuits put it differently: "I'll get my head straight first, I'll get psychoanalyzed, I'll overcome my inhibitions or neuroses or my hang-ups (whatever description you give to samsara) and then I'll wade into the fray." Presupposing that world and self are essentially separate, they imagine they can heal one before healing the other. This stance conveys the impression that human consciousness inhabits some haven, or locker-room, independent of the collective situation - and then trots onto the playing field when it is geared up and ready.
It is my experience that the world itself has a role to play in our liberation. Its very pressures, pains, and risks can wake us up - release us from the bonds of ego and guide us home to our vast, true nature. For some of us, our love of the world is so passionate that we cannot ask it to wait until we are enlightened.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Her favourite phrase was “I don’t know”. She told the Nobel audience: “It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended.” Without it, she said, Isaac Newton would have gobbled apples rather than pondering the force that makes them drop.
The Economist obit is here.
A friend of mine sent a wonderful article on the silence in a Trappist monastery.
Father A seems to have all the answers which makes me a little uncomfortable but I notice that it is his answers that I have underlined. I loved what he said about complexity.
If by “complexity” you mean the extraordinary diversification of forms of experience and the myriad ways they meet and interact in the course of living life, all of this is inexpressibly beautiful and it would be hard to see how it could be a challenge to anyone's faith. Probably, by “complexity” you mean rather the perplexing, self-defeating… binds we get ourselves into individually and collectively because of the influence of sin. It is sin that makes the world complicated, and sin comes from us. But if sin comes from in us, then a monk, living in silence and solitude, is sitting in the eye of the storm.
Real complexity is divine, what the journalist understands as complexity is probably a self-inflicted confusion caused by 'sin'. If you replace 'sin' with delusion or un-enlightenment then it's a very palatable truth. There's magnificent complexity and then there's miserable confusion.
Father A goes on to talk about his worries about the world outside, particularly the loneliness he sees around him:
In America, loneliness can become like the blueness of the sky. After a while, people don't think about it anymore.
and then again, explains how silence is not an avoidance of human intimacy, but the end product of a different kind of intimacy. Lovers, he says, meet and talk and talk and talk, but then fall silent:
They talk for hours together, and never tire of talking and so talk late into the night, until they become intimate—and then they don't talk anymore. Neither would describe intimacy as “the sacrifice of words” and a monk is not inclined to speak about his intimacy with God in this way.
I often dream about falling. Such dreams are commonplace to the ambitious or those who climb mountains. Lately I dreamed I was clutching at the face of a rock, but it would not hold. Gravel gave way, I grasped for a shrub, but it pulled loose, and in cold terror I fell into the abyss. Suddenly I realized that my fall was relative; there was no bottom and no end. A feeling of pleasure overcame me. I realized that what I embody, the principle of life, cannot be destroyed. It is written into the cosmic code, the order of the universe. As I continued to fall in the dark void, embraced by the vault of the heavens, I sang to the beauty of the stars and made peace with the darkness.
- Heinz Pagels
A keen monks asks the master:
"How long will it take me to get enlightened?"
"Oh, ten years", says the Master.
"But what if I study twice as hard, meditate twice as long? How long then?"asks the student.
"Twenty years", answers the Master.
We tend to practice meditation alone. It's a hangover partly from the monastic emphasis of going away from the world and sitting under a tree to clarify the mind. And there is, of course, huge benefit in that. The tugs and tumbles of the modern world make it very difficult to get any purchase on the slippery slopes of the busy mind unless we find somewhere relatively quiet to practice.
But finding solitude to examine the mind is very different from pretending that the mind functions in a vacuum.
All the information flowing out of neurobiology and psychotherapy illustrates, quite convincingly, that the human brain is actually formed in a massive growth spurt that begins in the womb and continues through the first 18 months of human life. The growing is dependent on the stimulation and support offered by the world around us. The presence of a loving mother, supportive father, challenging siblings, the cacophony of the noisy house, the smells of the kitchen, the colours of the gardens. All of this surrounding environment all plays into the growth of our brain and, therefore, of our sense of being in the world.
We are who we are because we live together with others in a World.
So, any meditative practice that labours under the illusion that we can exist free-floating and separate from the web of human contact and worldly phenomenon is doomed to frustrated failure. We are interconnected and mindfulness offers us a chance to become aware, sensitive and flexible to that common touch. We train ourselves in mindfulness, in order to be more fully and energetically inside that web.
With that in mind, myself and Kathy Osborne have been running a course over the last few years called Mindful Togetherness which looks at the way in which mindfulness can help us co-exist, not only with other people but with the world around us. The key to this is an awareness of our bodies and the energy fields that underpin them.
When we walk into a room, it is the body that enters it and it is the energy fields of the people in the room that sense, respond and react to our entrance. Most of this goes on almost automatically and almost unconsciously. I say 'almost' because mindfulness allows us to become aware of these lightning-quick rearrangements in energy and body language.
One of the ways we can attune to this is through mindful movement, a form of body aware yoga where we are tuning in not only to the position of our bones but also to the energy we feel in our bodies. As we start to factor that awareness into our daily life, then our field of attention grows. Not just "what am I thinking" but also "what is my body feeling" and "how is my energy reacting to this situation".
It's a quite different way of existing in the world - not just in the head but in the energized body.
The weekend workshop is at the Spa Road Buddhist Centre in Bermondsey and it cost £80. You can book here.
If we open our eyes, if we open our minds, if we open our hearts , we will find that this world is a magical place. It is not magical because it tricks us, or because it changes unexpectedly into something else, But it is magical because it can be so vividly, so brilliantly. However the discovery of that magic can only happen when we transcend our embarrassment about being alive, when we have the bravery to declare the goodness and dignity of human life, without either hesitation or arrogance.